Level: Basic What is Judaism? What does it mean to be a Jew? Most people, both Jewish and gentile



Download 42.33 Kb.
Date11.07.2018
Size42.33 Kb.
Name: _________________________________________________________________


What Is Judaism?


Level: Basic

What is Judaism? What does it mean to be a Jew? Most people, both Jewish and gentile, would instinctively say that Judaism is a religion. Is Judaism a race? If you were to say so, most Jews would think you were an antisemite! So what is Judaism?

Is Judaism a Religion?


Clearly, there is a religion called Judaism, a set of ideas about the world and the way we should live our lives that is called "Judaism." It is studied in Religious Studies courses and taught to Jewish children in Hebrew schools.

However, many people who call themselves Jews do not believe in that religion at all! More than half of all Jews in Israel today call themselves "secular," and don't believe in G-d or any of the religious beliefs of Judaism. Half of all Jews in the United States don't belong to any synagogue. They may practice some of the rituals of Judaism and celebrate some of the holidays, but they don't think of these actions as religious activities. Clearly, then, there is more to being Jewish than just a religion.


What Do Jews Believe?


Level: Basic

This is a far more difficult question than you might expect. Judaism has no dogma, no formal set of beliefs that one must hold to be a Jew. In Judaism, actions are far more important than beliefs, although there is certainly a place for belief within Judaism.

The closest that anyone has ever come to creating a widely-accepted list of Jewish beliefs is Rambam's thirteen principles of faith. Rambam's thirteen principles of faith, which he thought were the minimum requirements of Jewish belief, are:



  1. G-d exists

  2. G-d is one and unique

  3. G-d is incorporeal ( spirit-like )

  4. G-d is eternal

  5. Prayer is to be directed to G-d alone and to no other

  6. The words of the prophets are true

  7. Moses's prophecies are true, and Moses was the greatest of the prophets

  8. The Written Torah (first 5 books of the Bible) and Oral Torah (teachings now contained in the Talmud and other writings) were given to Moses

  9. There will be no other Torah

  10. G-d knows the thoughts and deeds of men

  11. G-d will reward the good and punish the wicked

  12. The Messiah will come

  13. The dead will be resurrected

As you can see, these are very basic and general principles. Judaism focuses on relationships: the relationship between G-d and mankind, between G-d and the Jewish people, between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and between human beings. Our scriptures tell the story of the development of these relationships, from the time of creation, through the creation of the relationship between G-d and Abraham.

Who is a Jew?


A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.

It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do Once a person has converted to Judaism, he is not referred to by any special term; he is as much a Jew as anyone born Jewish.

Although all Jewish movements agree on these general principles, there are occasional disputes as to whether a particular individual is a Jew. Most of these disputes fall into one of two categories.

First, traditional Judaism maintains that a person is a Jew if his mother is a Jew, regardless of who his father is. The liberal movements, on the other hand, consider a person to be Jewish if either of his parents was Jewish and the child was raised Jewish.


The Land of Israel


Level: Basic

The Promised Land


The history of the Jewish people begins with Abraham, and the story of Abraham begins when G-d tells him to leave his homeland, promising Abraham and his descendants a new home in the land of Canaan. (now Israel). This is the land now known as Israel, named after Abraham's grandson, whose descendants are the Jewish people. The land is often referred to as the Promised Land because of G-d's repeated promise to give the land to the descendants of Abraham.

The land is described repeatedly in the Torah as a good land and "a land flowing with milk and honey" This description may not seem to fit well with the desert images we see on the nightly news, but let's keep in mind that the land was repeatedly abused by conquerors who were determined to make the land uninhabitable for the Jews Living outside of Israel is viewed as an unnatural state for a Jew. The Jews were exiled from their “ promised land ” many, many times by invaders, and had to wander around the Middle East for hundreds of years until they could go home to

The Holocaust brought the need for a Jewish homeland into sharp focus for both Jews and for the rest of the world. The Jews who tried to flee Nazi Germany were often turned back due to immigration limitations at the borders of every country, including the United States, Britain and Palestine. Many of those who were sent back to Germany ended up in death camps where they were systematically murdered.

The British were unable to come up with a solution that would satisfy either Arabs or Jews, so in 1947, they handed the problem to the newly-founded United Nations, which developed a partition plan dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab portions. The plan was ratified in November 1947.. The Jews of Palestine promptly declared the creation of the State of Israel, which was recognized by several Western countries immediately.



However, the surrounding Arab nations did not recognize the validity of Israel and invaded, claiming that they were filling a vacuum created by the termination of the mandate and the absence of any legal authority to replace it. The Arabs fought a year-long war to drive the Jews out. Miraculously, the new state of Israel won this war, as well as every subsequent Arab-Israeli war, gaining territory every time the Arabs attacked them.

Signs and Symbols


Level: Basic







Mezuzah


On the doorposts of traditional Jewish homes (and many not-so-traditional homes!), you will find a small case like the one pictured at left. This case is commonly known as a mezuzah because it is placed upon the doorposts of the house. The mezuzah is not, as some suppose, a good-luck charm, nor does it have any connection with the lamb's blood placed on the doorposts in Egypt. Rather, it is a constant reminder of G-d's presence and G-d's mitzvot.

The case and scroll are then nailed or affixed to the right side doorpost on an angle, with a small ceremony called Chanukkat Ha-Bayit (dedication of the house - yes, this is the same word as Chanukkah, the holiday celebrating the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabean revolt against Greece). A brief blessing is recited. See the text of the blessing at Affixing the Mezuzah.

Why is the mezuzah affixed at an angle? The rabbis could not decide whether it should be placed horizontally or vertically, so they compromised!

Every time you pass through a door with a mezuzah on it, you touch the mezuzah and then kiss the fingers that touched it, expressing love and respect for G-d and his mitzvot and reminding yourself of the mitzvot contained within them.



It is proper to remove a mezuzah when you move, and in fact, it is usually recommended. If you leave it in place, the subsequent owner may treat it with disrespect, and this is a grave sin. I have seen many mezuzot in apartment complexes that have been painted over by subsequent owners, and it breaks my heart every time I see that sort of disrespect to an object of religious significance.

Menorah


One of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith is the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum used in the Temple. The kohanim lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into the cups. It has been said that the menorah is a symbol of the nation of Israel and our mission to be "a light unto the nations." . The sages emphasize that light is not a violent force; Israel is to accomplish its mission by setting an example, not by using force.

The nine-branched menorah used on Chanukkah is commonly patterned after this menorah, because Chanukkah commemorates the miracle that a day's worth of oil for this menorah lasted eight days.


Yarmulke


The most commonly known and recognized piece of Jewish garb is actually the one with the least religious significance. The word yarmulke (usually, but not really correctly, pronounced yammica) is Yiddish. According to Leo Rosten's The Joys of Yiddish, it comes from a Tartar word meaning skullcap. The Hebrew word for this head covering is kippah (pronounced key-pah).

It is an ancient practice for Jews to cover their heads during prayer. This probably derives from the fact that in Eastern cultures, it is a sign of respect to cover the head (the custom in Western cultures is the opposite: it is a sign of respect to remove one's hat). Thus, by covering the head during prayer, one showed respect for G-d. In addition, in ancient Rome, servants were required to cover their heads while free men did not; thus, Jews covered their heads to show that they were servants of G-d. In medieval times, Jews covered their heads as a reminder that G-d is always above them. Whatever the reason given, however, covering the head has always been regarded more as a custom rather than a commandment.



There is no special significance to the yarmulke as a specific type of head covering. Its light weight, compactness and discreteness make it a convenient choice of head gear. I am unaware of any connection between the yarmulke and the similar skullcap worn by the Pope.



Magen David


The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol. It is supposed to represent the shape of King David's shield (or perhaps the emblem on it). Jews often were required to wear badges to identify themselves as Jews, much as they were in Nazi Germany, but these Jewish badges were not always the familiar Magen David. In the 17th century, it became a popular practice to put Magen Davids on the outside of synagogues, to identify them as Jewish houses of worship in much the same way that a cross identified a Christian house of worship; however, I have never seen any explanation of why this symbol was chosen, rather than some other symbol.

When the modern state of Israel was founded, there was much debate over whether this symbol should be used on the flag.



Today, the Magen David is a universally recognized symbol of Jewry. It appears on the flag of the state of Israel.













Chai


This symbol, commonly seen on necklaces and other jewelry and ornaments, is simply the Hebrew word Chai (living), with the two Hebrew letters Chet and Yod attached to each other. Some say it refers to the Living G-d; others say it simply reflects Judaism's focus on the importance of life. Whatever the reason, the concept of chai is important in Jewish culture. The typical Jewish toast is l'chayim (to life).

Rosh Hashanah


Level: Basic



In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the American midnight drinking bash and daytime football game.

There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions." Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.


Yom Kippur


Level: Basic



Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Jews will refrain from work, fast and/or attend synagogue services on this day. The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement," and that pretty much explains what the holiday is. It is a day set aside to "afflict the soul," to atone for the sins of the past year.. This day is, essentially, your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgment, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d, not for sins against another person. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible. That must all be done before Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a complete Sabbath; no work can be performed on that day. It is well-known that you are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking (even water) on Yom Kippur. It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before

As always, any of these restrictions can be lifted where a threat to life or health is involved. In fact, children under the age of nine and women in childbirth (from the time labor begins until three days after birth) are not permitted to fast, even if they want to. Older children and women from the third to the seventh day after childbirth are permitted to fast, but are permitted to break the fast if they feel the need to do so. People with other illnesses should consult a physician and a rabbi for advice.



Most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue, in prayer

Chanukkah


Level: Basic



Chanukkah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights. Chanukkah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs, such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has its roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.


The Story


The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy..

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.


Traditions


Chanukkah is not a very important religious holiday. The holiday's religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavu'ot.

The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a menorah (or sometimes called a chanukkiah) that holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shammus (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shammus candle is lit and three berakhot (blessings) are recited Each night, another candle is added from right to left. Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Chanukkah candles and the shammus) are litWhy the shammus candle? The Chanukkah candles are for pleasure only; we are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. We keep an extra one around (the shammus), so that if we need to do something useful with a candle, we don't accidentally use the Chanukkah candles. The shammus candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shammus.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukkah because of the significance of oil to the holiday. This usually includes latkes (pronounced "lot-kuhs" or "lot-keys."

Gift-giving is not a traditional part of the holiday, but has been added in places where Jews have a lot of contact with Christians, as a way of dealing with our children's jealousy of their Christian friends. It is extremely unusual for Jews to give Chanukkah gifts to anyone other than their own young children. The only traditional gift of the holiday is "gelt," small amounts of money.

Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolate coins. The traditional explanation of this game is that during the time of Antiochus' oppression, those who wanted to study Torah (an illegal activity) would conceal their activity by playing gambling games with a top (a common and legal activity) whenever an official or inspector was within sight.

A dreidel is marked with four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham", a great miracle happened there, referring to the miracle of the oil.



The letters also stand for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game! There are some variations in the way people play the game, but the way I learned it, everyone puts in one coin. A person spins the dreidel. If it lands n Nun, nothing happens; on Gimmel (or, as we called it as kids, "gimme!"), you get the whole pot; on Heh, you get half of the pot; and on Shin, you put one in. When the pot is empty, everybody puts one in. Keep playing until one person has everything. Then redivide it, because nobody likes a poor winner.




Share with your friends:


The database is protected by copyright ©dentisty.org 2019
send message

    Main page